Let's get this right out of the way: My hesitation in waiting until now to see Furthur had nothing to do with my love for Bob Weir and Phil Lesh‚ but rather my reluctance to accept what I viewed as a Garcia impersonator actually being in an official post-Dead outfit for the first time. And yes‚ John Kadlecik does try to bring in more of his own voice both vocally and on the guitar in this band then he did while in Dark Star Orchestra. But let's kindly call a spade a spade -- he got hired for the band because he sounds like Jerry. Personally‚ as someone who just narrowly missed seeing the real fat-man in person‚ I've always felt that listening to someone try to play precisely like Garcia is like framing a poster of the Mona Lisa on your wall -- an odd depthless replication. Regardless‚ I decided to approach this show with as little preconceptions as possible. I went to Edgefield this night with the intention of listening to this music like they weren't songs ingrained in my soul‚ but rather just familiar echoes of blissful times passed. So as all Deadheads have their own notions of the Grateful Dead's thriving legacy‚ just wanted to start review by saying I'm one of "those" guys‚ whoever "those" may be.
"Shakedown" opener was crushing. Phil locked in with Joe Russo on the drums in a grip that felt like Citizen Kane was being handed Rosebud on his deathbed. The vocal scat portion did end up quoting The Commodores' "Brick House‚" which was surely a little odd‚ but if you can't laugh at Bobby's odd judgment calls then what can you laugh at? A subsequent "Feel Like a Stranger" kept things extra-lively early‚ and it felt obvious that as the guys near their 200th show together they've definitely figured out how to dial it all in. Great 1st set takes on the Garcia heavy-hitters of "Althea" and "Crazy Fingers" were both warm and tasteful‚ and the unnervingly obscure chord changes of the rare "Doing That Rag" were totally nailed. "Satisfaction" was a nutty call for a set closer‚ but Bob Weir wants you to be sure you know which guitarist is the front-man in this band.
Second set opened with a "Viola Lee Blues" that quite frankly was tremendous. Kadlecik had his moments throughout the night where it seemed like he was worried about sounding too Jerry-ish and thus lost some of his confidence‚ but on this "Viola" he was firing all cylinders. For a solid segment of the jam I completely lost myself in the music‚ and had to eventually step back so as to remember what band I was listening to. Russo attacks and drives these songs with a ferocity that he doesn't even realize they've never had before‚ and his previous lack of knowledge with the Dead's repertoire actually allows him to take it in totally new and unforeseen directions. The band charged through a bombastic "Help>Slipknot" that continued full force into a blind-siding "Let it Grow." The "Wheel‚" "Comes a Time" two-for pushed me slightly back into my "that guy" phase for a minute‚ but the re-growth back into "Slipknot" slapped me out of it. The "Franklin's" closer was joyous and huge‚ although Phil's lead vocals sounded utterly wretched -- but his vocals have always sounded utterly wretched so I guess everything seemed just fine.
So yes‚ despite my predications I had an incredible time and it's a fabulous way to share an evening with old friends. The backup singers are completely unnecessary and add to the slight Vegas-shtick vibe‚ but other than that it's a top-notch band that Phil and Bobby have assembled. The one grand realization I did have however‚ is that with the formation of this band they have officially acknowledged that they are playing to a crowd that is primarily made up of people who didn't ever see the Grateful Dead. It's a younger crowd‚ and it's a crowd that doesn't have the same hang-ups as I do about synthetic Garcias. And you know what? That's fine. And more power to the band for seeing the generational change‚ knowing what the audience wants to hear‚ and keeping the massively heavy ball rolling.